I have been reading a lot lately on writing forums about the costs of paying developmental editors. Most of these posts end in something like: Is there any other way? I just can't afford it.
As an author myself, who has paid thousands of dollars for professional editing over the years (and learned a ton!), I have some advice for those looking for developmental editing who relate to these posts (and I think most writers do relate to them).
1. You'd be surprised what you can get out of a one-hour zoom meeting with a developmental editor who understands your goals, particularly if you are willing to throw in one more hour for them to read 10-20 pages of your work beforehand. It does not have to be black and white when it comes to paid services (either don't hire someone at all or hire someone for a high price you cannot afford). You can learn a lot in two hours. You can take baby steps and come back six months later for two more hours.
2. Second, here is some free advice: read in your genre. You do not have to re-invent the wheel. Most readers know what they like and want more of the same. Read, read, read. Ask yourself why this does or does not work. Read with a highlighter and highlight what works and what does not (dialogue, character description, where is the climax, how is location set) All of this is free in the library.
3. Third, there are beta reader FB sites where people trade manuscripts and give feedback. Sure, there is no guarantee but it is free and there are some excellent readers out there who are willing to trade in exchange for your own expertise. I suggest trading only the first three chapters with someone if you are unsure about its usefullness. Type in beta readers into the FB search and get scrolling.
4. Fourth, there are book developmental courses from 4-6 weeks long that can get you started for less than $200. I taught on such a site from 2009 until only last year (took a break) and offered courses for as low as $120. There are courses there for as low as $90. It is very competetive out there now with so many authors and sites offering courses. No need to break the bank. I am not offering any courses there at the moment, so there is nothing in it for me if you take a look. I promise I do not get kickbacks. https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/WOWclasses.html
I still believe that the developmental edits I recieved, particularly on my first three novels Passport Control, King of the Class and No Entry, in the past were invaluable and I doubt I would have had my books published without them. But these are other options for writers who are hesitant to dive in and pay for a full developmental edit.
As I wrote here, my novels With A Good Eye (forthcoming 2024) and The Inheritance (almost ready for submission this summer 2023) would not be without the developmental edit I received that let me know I was writing two books at once.
So, overall, a big yes to professional developmental editing, but that does not mean there are no other solutions to progress in your work. These smaller steps may or may not take you to the finish line, but will move you closer to where you wish to go.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.
Great advice! I love reading craft books (on short fiction, especially). Here are a few of my faves:
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders
Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction by Damon Knight
And for developmental work that is not related to short stories, I found The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne very well written (however poorly indexed 😭). (Plus he has a ton of related website material and podcast resources.)